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Rick Telander
October 24, 1988
Spunky Notre Dame laid claim to the top spot in the national rankings by outlasting No. 1 Miami 31-30
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October 24, 1988

Pluck Of The Irish

Spunky Notre Dame laid claim to the top spot in the national rankings by outlasting No. 1 Miami 31-30

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In the second half, what Johnson hated was the sight of Irish freshman tight end Derek Brown catching two passes for 46 yards, which helped Notre Dame sustain time-eating drives. A 6'7", 235-pound bruiser who can run like a deer, Brown is from Merritt Island, Fla.—'Cane country—and Johnson had recruited him like crazy, knowing what Brown would be able to do in Miami's offensive system. But Brown visited Notre Dame in the dead of winter and, miracle of miracles, fell under the Irish spell.

"I came here on a gut feeling," he said after the game. "I couldn't believe it, either." And what could he tell the disappointed fans in south Florida? "I'd just like to say, 'Well, I made the right choice.' "

With speedsters like Brown, Rice, Watters, Ismail and running back Tony Brooks, Notre Dame is no longer a lead-footed team. Miami found that out in the third quarter as the Irish pulled ahead 31-21 on a TD and a field goal set up by a couple of big passes from Rice and crafty running by Brooks.

But then it was Miami prime time. Everybody had the same thought: Could this team possibly roar back in the fourth quarter the way it had earlier this year in that game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, or the way it had last year against Florida State, when it had scored three times in just 4:57 to win 26-25? It would take faith. But as Walsh said before the game, "Notre Dame hasn't cornered the market on Catholic football players." Walsh is Catholic, as are the Big Three who preceded him at quarterback, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. All Miami's starting offensive linemen, including tight end Rob Chudzinski, are Catholics too.

The southern Catholics came back against the Midwestern Catholics. Miami scored on a field goal and then on the Walsh-to-Brown touchdown pass with 45 seconds left. Everything—or, at least, an Orange Bowl berth and the national championship—may have been hanging on the two-point conversion attempt. Johnson never considered playing for a tie. "We always play to win," he declared solemnly afterward.

But Walsh's floating pass intended for Conley was batted down in the end zone by Terrell, and Notre Dame won its sixth game in row. In the locker room where Bertelli, Lujack and Huarte used to dress, Rice smiled with pure satisfaction. Critics have questioned whether an option-type quarterback—a black kid from the Deep South, for goodness' sake—is suited to lead this hallowed institution on the gridiron. Well, after the Miami game, Rice's suitability is no longer in doubt.

Before the game, in the tunnel under the stadium, a fair-sized dust-up had broken out between Notre Dame and Miami players, and somebody had grabbed Rice's face mask and tried to punch him. "It was number 18," said Rice after the game. That would be Miami backup wide receiver Pee Wee Smith. Gee, has anybody ever been hurt by a guy named Pee Wee?

Rice laughed. It was no big deal. One time during the game he had come to the sideline and wiped off "a big gob of spit on my forehead." That was no big deal, either.

What is a big deal is that Rice now fits in at Notre Dame, both on the field and in the classroom. A former Proposition 48 casualty, Rice is pleased to announce that he got an A-minus and a B on two recent psychology midterms. How has he turned things around?

"They have so many people helping you here—how can you fail?" he replies. "Unless you don't want it. I want it."

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